Deputy minister breaks away from Dr M’s view over Kuantan’s ‘China wall’

Ong Kian Ming defends a controversial barrier erected by a Chinese company despite criticisms by Dr Mahathir.

KUALA LUMPUR: A deputy minister has urged the government to be cautious in dealing with a controversial 9km-long wall built by a Chinese company at an industrial park in Pahang, days after Dr Mahathir Mohamad warned that the structure should be torn down.

Deputy Minister of International Trade and Industry Ong Kian Ming said the wall, which is 2-3 metres tall and built around the 3,500-acre Malaysia-China Kuantan Industrial Park (MCKIP), was a “very small matter in the overall scheme of things”.

“We need to understand the situation and what is really going on in all of these projects so we can find win-win solutions for all parties,” Ong, who is a member of DAP’s Central Committee, told reporters today, following his visit to the MCKIP site yesterday.

Earlier today, Ong offered a lengthy explanation in defence of the wall, playing down concerns over the barrier as well as defending a Chinese steel factory which erected the structure.

Pakatan Harapan (PH) leaders in the past criticised the structure, which some dubbed as the “Great Wall of China”, as a symbol of unfettered powers of Chinese companies involved in major projects in Malaysia under former prime minister Najib Razak.

Following Ong’s defence of the wall, Najib today said it was a far cry from PH’s strong stance on the matter, adding it was one of many issues raised by PH politicians in which he had been vindicated since BN’s defeat in the May polls.

Najib said he had been accused of “selling out the country” when PH leaders questioned the 3m wall surrounding the Chinese-owned Alliance Steel factory plant in MCKIP.

“Only now do I know that a solution to ‘selling out’ the country is to lower the height of the wall surrounding the steel factory by 1.2m. Why didn’t you tell me then?” asked the former prime minister.

MCKIP acts as a sister park to the China-Malaysia Qinzhou Industrial Park (CMQIP) in Nanning, China.

It is 49% owned by Chinese government firm Guangxi Beibu Gulf International Port Group Co Ltd, and the remaining 51% by Kuantan Pahang Holding, a joint venture between the Pahang state government, IJM Land and Sime Darby Property.

Dr M: Wall must come down

Ong’s remarks are seen as contradicting Mahathir’s recent call to demolish the wall, saying an industrial park should not be treated like a “foreign country” and must abide by local laws.

“Nobody has ever done that. You build a wall around an industrial park and you don’t even allow Malaysians to go in. This is not the practice we use. We have hundreds of industrial parks and they are all under Malaysian law,” the prime minister told Malaysiakini after his official visit to China last month.

“So we need to take down walls and all that because these are wrong in our country,” he said.

But in a lengthy explanation today, Ong defended the need for the wall, saying it was justified due to the “huge” assets it was meant to protect.

He suggested that Mahathir could have got a wrong impression of the wall based on his visit some 10 months earlier, at a time when the wall was the only structure surrounding an empty compound.

“Now that the various sections within the plant are already built, the size of the wall is relatively low when compared to the massive buildings within the compound,” he said.

He said the wall was not as gigantic as it is perceived to be.

“The infamous wall reaches a maximum height of 3m but is closer to 2m in most parts.”

Ong added that Alliance Steel, the factory around which the wall is built, has agreed to send a proposal to the Kuantan Town Council (MPK) to lower the concrete wall to 1.8m.

He also defended Alliance Steel, saying it not only provides jobs to 2,500 Malaysians, but they are also given free meals and lodging, with a locally owned supermarket chain operating within the plant.

He said it was eager to show its engagement with Malaysians such as by organising a Merdeka event, but has difficulty communicating with authorities due to language barriers.

“It very much wants to live up to its motto of ‘In Malaysia, for Malaysia’ but is currently not PR savvy enough to do this effectively,” said Ong.

Ong today told reporters that Malaysia should send a signal that it welcomes “good quality investments”, adding that every project should be evaluated based on its individual merit.